Al Sharpton followed his call to public service at the age of ten when he was ordained a minister. Later on, he became a very vibrant Civil Rights Activist, a candidate for mayor of New York City, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and finally for president.
Sharpton has never won a political race but he has become a political power player. Next week, he will be honored with a speaking role at the Democratic convention in Boston, speaking on the same night as Senator Ted Kennedy and Teresa Heinz Kerry. Sharpton sat down with Deborah Norville on Tuesday to discuss his political views and the upcoming convention.
DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST: How did you feel about the call from the DNC that they wanted you to speak primetime at the convention?
AL SHARPTON, FMR DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I was pleased. When Senator Kerry said all of the former candidates would be given roles to speak at some point, I thought that was important because all sides of the party and the constituencies are represented, heard and feel included. I think that that's the way we consolidate for victory in November.
NORVILLE: What is your message when you get up there?
SHARPTON: I want to talk about why I think Americans should vote for John Kerry and John Edwards, from my perspective and the perspective of my constituency. I also want to talk about the hope we have for America.
I think that we are seeing those that want to radically change this country, that have made a lot of progress toward trying to make it one America, trying to bring equal opportunity and equal protection under the law, and how we cannot allow this radical change that has happened under the Bush administration.
When you see the suspension in many areas of civil liberties, the three million jobs lost under George Bush who gave tax cuts that would reward the high-income-level Americans—that's a radical change from an America that was geared toward trying to make sure the middle class was stabilized and trying to uplift the lower class.
NORVILLE: You know the criticism that's been made of the Kerry campaign—that there aren't nearly enough faces of diversity in the decision-making roles within the organization. And then you flip over, you look at the Bush administration and you have two of the most prominent blacks as part of his administration. What should the Democrats do, as this campaign goes forward, to be more inclusive in that way?
SHARPTON: I think that when you look at the fact that the Kerry campaign, the deputy campaign manager now is Bill Lynch. Even before that, we had people involved in the campaign. If you look at Kerry's record, you have see inclusion since his days in the United States Senate, even before that, when he was a prosecutor.
When you look at George Bush, you have two blacks that he appointed. But the question is, are blacks just satisfied with black faces in high places, or do we want policies that will help our community?
In New York City today, 51 percent of black men are unemployed. That's Bush's policy. That won't satisfy us, that he has one or two blacks in big positions if they're not helping the majority of the blacks. So I think what Kerry is doing is proposing things that will help all Americans, including blacks.
I think that is more important than having tokens that you can display on convention night but that you're really not going to have policy to help their communities.
NORVILLE: Do you think you're a token on convention night?
SHARPTON: No, I think that Colin Powell and others may have been used as tokens because we saw them in the convention, at the Republican convention in 2000, and the policies that have followed have not helped the communities that they come from.
NORVILLE: Do you hold Colin Powell responsible for those policies?
SHARPTON: No, I think my challenge clearly was to Pres. Bush. The challenge is to him. I don't think Colin Powell is a token anywhere. But I think that you begin to give people that feeling if you show us diversity at your convention in 2000, and then you have an exclusive policy for four years. In four years, George Bush hasn't met with the NAACP.
Four years, he's only met with the Congressional Black Caucus one time. So you make people feel like you're using people when you show a diverse convention in 2000 and you show lack of diversity for four years, once you're in office.
NORVILLE: Republicans have historically not gotten the black vote. That's historically gone to the Democratic Party. Do you think the Kerry/Edwards commercials, who spent over $2 million creating, are appealing to the black voter?
SHARPTON: I've never seen $2 million spent before the convention geared toward the African-American voter. I think that that is a tremendous plus, and it shows the heart of this campaign and the heart of the party. I also think when you contrast that with George Bush at the same time saying, "I'm not even going to talk at the NAACP," you can see the difference in who wants to build an inclusive America for everyone.
NORVILLE: There's some black commentators out there, who question whether there is a unified African-American voting block out there, the argument being that now many blacks have moved up in the economic sphere and their interests may not be as precisely aligned as others who are also black Americans. Do you agree with that?
SHARPTON: I think there has always been diversity in our community. I think there's always been different feelings, different voting patterns. That's why it's so interesting that 90 percent still reject people like George Bush because despite that difference, the overwhelming majority vote against George Bush, which shows that this is a question of lack of diversity and lack of sincerity, and it has nothing to do with just one side of the political spectrum in our community.